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IWSG: Making friends with booksellers

It’s an old saw that if you want to be a writer, you must do two things: write a lot and read a lot. I’ll add one more to the list if you want to be a successful writer: build relationships.

As a writer, some of the most beneficial relationships you can have are with booksellers. You may think getting your novels in a bricks-and-mortar store is impossible if you’re an indie or small press author, but that isn’t true. It may take more of an upfront investment of money and time to do it on your own, but it’s so worth it.

My favourite local bookstore is McNally Robinson Booksellers. It’s a gorgeous book-lover’s haven, where you could easily spend a month without ever getting bored. Since my very first visit, it’s been my dream to hold a book launch there, and get my photo on the wall with the other “real” authors.

The first opportunity I had to read at McNally was ChiSeries, a national series of readings by speculative fiction writers. While I was there, I met two incredible people (shout out to events coordinator John Toews (pictured above) and bookseller Dana Krawchuk) who did everything they could to make the event a success. Booksellers are the easiest people for you to make friends with, writers: they’re smart, well-read, and they love books as much or more than you do. And, like you, they depend upon the written word for their livelihood. What’s not to love?

When my publicist arranged for my double-book launch to take place at McNally a year or so later, I was beyond thrilled. And, once again, John and Dana were there to make sure the biggest day of my life was also my best. I can’t thank them enough for everything they did for me. I was treated like a VIP, and I showed my gratitude with an edible bouquet of fruit and chocolate and as many thank you’s as they could possibly stand.

In return? Wow. From hitting their best-sellers list to being prominently recommended on their social media channels and featured in their newest store, my relationship with McNally continues to be nothing short of life changing. When international best-selling thriller author Karin Slaughter launched two books here, John asked me to be the host and interview her on stage. My jaw hit the floor. Me? When I needed a testimonial for a writer-in-residence dream job, he wrote me the most beautiful letter of reference. The support and encouragement I’ve received from McNally’s staff is truly priceless.

Why am I telling you this? Because you too can make friends with your local booksellers. Here’s what I did:

1) Be a nice person. Seriously. It’s not that hard. Learn their names, be friendly, say hello, get to know them as much as you can without being annoying. Want a conversation opener? Ask them about the books they love.

2) Be grateful. Thank them. Repeatedly. If they’re hand-selling your books, or organizing a launch, or including you in a display, they’re doing you a massive favour. John may say otherwise, but I don’t think it’s possible to thank them too much for that. I’ve included both John and Dana in the acknowledgements of my latest book.

3) Be respectful. If you’re bringing in books for them to sell, don’t use an Amazon box, even if you ordered them from Createspace. When you contact them via email, make sure booksellers other than Amazon are in your signature line, or feature your friendly neighbourhood bookstore prominently. Make them feel like the rockstars they are.

4) Reciprocate. What can you do for them? Booksellers are always looking for ways to get more people in the door. Can you create a program for them? Teach a free class? Host a reading? A book signing? If it’s Independent Booksellers Day, is there something you can do to help them celebrate? Just the fact that you offer to help will make you stand out, even if they don’t take you up on it.

5) Be genuine. I give the above tips with the caveat that they all must come from a genuine place. Make friends with booksellers you like as people, without hope of getting anything in return. Don’t be one of those slimy used-car salespeople posing as writers, on the lookout for people they can turn on the fake charm with. I’ve met authors like that, and they’re as subtle as a glaring neon sign. Whenever anyone does something kind for me, I’m legitimately thankful and somewhat blown away–I never come across like I’m entitled to it, because I honestly don’t feel that I am.

Next month I’ll continue this post with amazing tips from two more phenomenal independent booksellers, Maryelizabeth Yturraide and R.J. Crowther Jr., both from Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego, California. They had such great advice that they needed their own post!

What’s your favourite indie bookstore? What’s the nicest thing they’ve done for you? How have you made friends with your local booksellers?

IWSGThe purpose of the Insecure Writers’ Support Group is to share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds. To see a full list of IWSG authors, click here.

1 part newsletter, 1 part unnerving updates,
2 parts sneak peeks of new projects.

57 Comments

  1. Great ideas! One day, I hope to be able to put them to good use…

    Reply
    • JH

      You can start now, Randee. It’s never too early to begin building those relationships. When you do have a book ready to launch, you’ll be thankful you took the time.

      Reply
  2. Treat them right and they will treat you right. You set the stage and now great things are happening.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Alex. So true.

      Reply
  3. Sadly, I do not have money to invest. Or a publicist to help me get my foot in the door. lol

    Reply
    • JH

      Sorry, perhaps my post was unclear. I met and connected with John and Dana on my own, before my publicist got involved–before I had a publicist. What my publicist actually did–ask them about holding my launch there–I easily could have done on my own.

      And as for money, that’s just to purchase stock of your books for the store. If you have books for signings, conventions, etc., you could easily commission some to stores.

      I’m not some big, rich author. I’m living off a loan.

      Reply
  4. Excellent post! Being a nice person and being genuine are good rules to follow in general. 🙂

    Reply
    • JH

      True that.

      Reply
  5. I never thought of that. I have two local bookstores near me but it takes me putting on my big girl panties and going to talk to people. That idea slightly terrifies me.

    Reply
    • JH

      Once you’re there, I’m sure you’ll find it’s easier than you think. Asking for book recommendations is a great conversation starter. Good luck!

      Reply
  6. Awesome. You know, it’s true of any industry and success story. You rub shoulders, you build relationships, and your business grows as you do. Why should books be any different?

    Reply
    • JH

      True, Crystal. Building relationships is crucial for any business. Heck, it’s crucial for life.

      Nice to see you back here. I’ve missed you!

      Reply
  7. Wonderfully encouraging post thank you! I had a book launch last year at a local indie bookshop and they were the nicest people!

    Reply
  8. You’ve built some amazing relationships. Such a good tip about not flaunting Amazon. While it has it’s place, we really need to support local bookstores. Bookish people are the best.

    Reply
    • JH

      Agreed, Ellen. I never would have thought about the signature line if a bookseller hadn’t told me how many people approach them with Amazon-heavy signature lines. Whoops!

      Reply
  9. Sorry if this is a duplicate comment – unsure first went through- wonderfully encouraging post thank you. I had a book launch at a local indie bookshop last year and they were the nicest people.

    Reply
    • JH

      Hi Susan,

      Both comments came through. For some reason, it takes a while for new comments to show up on my site. Glad you had a great experience at your launch.

      Reply
  10. I totally agree! I’ve done over 300 store appearances and it’s so important to cultivate that relationship. Plus send a thank you – so few authors do.

    Reply
    • JH

      Wow, 300! That’s truly incredible, Diane. Do you keep in touch with any of them?

      Great tip to send a thank you.

      Reply
  11. Excellent advice. And, it’s so true. Also, librarians, or people who volunteer at libraries make great friends. I just sold one of my books to someone who works out with me at the Y and also volunteers at the library. Building relationships is the key to success, and a happy life. Cheers!

    Reply
    • JH

      So true, Mary, and I’m glad you mentioned librarians. They’ll be the subject of another post!

      Reply
  12. Love McNally’s! They do a great job of supporting local talent (like you!) and events. Good advice here. 🙂

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Lisa. I love them too. They’ve been so good to me.

      Reply
  13. Sounds like it was a lot of fun. Interviewing a celebrity seems like a wonderful reward. I miss reading actual books.

    Reply
    • JH

      Yes, e-readers–while convenient–really aren’t the same. Bookstores are magic places.

      Reply
  14. Excellent advice! Our indie bookstores are basically used book stores, but can still be great venues for authors. I love going to local bookstores when I travel. When I visited my daughter in San Diego, she took me to Mysterious Galaxy. That is a fabulous bookstore!

    Reply
    • JH

      It really is fabulous, Lee–and you should meet the people who run it! They’re amazing.

      And I agree, used bookstores are great too. Anywhere you can meet booksellers is a great place to kill some time.

      Reply
  15. Personal relationships in this business are so important, and you’ve certainly proven that. Glad you posted about this today.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Lee. I think they’re important in every business. Relationship building has literally changed my life in every conceivable way (and always for the better).

      Reply
  16. Excellent advice! I’ve bookmarked this to refer to when I’m ready for my book launch. Here in Tacoma, Washington, we’re blessed with an indie bookseller who promotes local authors and brings readers together with regular social events. Best writing wishes to you in the merry month of May.

    Reply
    • JH

      That sounds wonderful, Rhonda, but my advice would be not to wait. Get to know them a little now. Drop by the store, spend a few bucks, chat with the owners and/or sellers. Once it’s time for your launch, they’ll already like you, and that makes a huge difference.

      Reply
  17. When we met, you made it clear that networking was a huge part of being a successful author. I knew you were right. Love the post and congrats. 🙂

    Anna from elements of emaginette

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks so much, Anna. I’m not sure what I said, but I’m glad it resonated with you. I’m going back to that conference this year…as a presenter! So excited.

      Reply
  18. Wow, this is something I really hadn’t thought about before. Thanks for this one!

    Reply
    • JH

      You’re very welcome. Hope you found something useful in it.

      Reply
  19. What a heart-warming true-life story! 🙂

    I totally agree with all your tips, especially the showing respect and gratitude part. And, to be yourself (nice and genuine) should be common sense. I can’t believe there are writers who are full of themselves and act as slimy salespeople. Yikes! (Actually, I can believe this based on the variety of people that exists in every category.)

    A bit of effort goes a long way, and I’m glad your relationships and connections have a wonderful side-effect. You’ve come across some amazing opportunities because of it. Thanks for sharing your tips. If only I had a local bookstore, or was local somewhere. 🙂

    Reply
    • JH

      It may be a bit more challenging, Liesbet, but you totally can! You can make friends with booksellers online and on social media. And in a way, your lifestyle has you uniquely positioned to meet tons of them. I made friends with two during StokerCon two years ago, and we still keep in touch, even though they’re based in California and I’m in Canada. You could have a seller in every port, so to speak.

      Reply
  20. I’ve had my books in a used book store. The guy bought the books from me and everything. It was awesome. Unfortunately, he sold it to someone else then a year later they shut down.

    Reply
    • JH

      That’s a shame, Patricia. Hopefully you can find another. I hope you kept in touch with the guy, though. You never know where he could end up.

      Reply
  21. Another great post! I don’t have books to pitch yet, but I have booksellers as friends. I love the interactions, the recommendations. So many books I read last year were suggestions from these same bookseller friends. I’d love to show you my local store when you’re in town this summer.

    Reply
    • JH

      I’d love to visit it, Ryan. That was kind of my point–make friends with booksellers when you don’t want anything from them. Just do it because you like them. When you do have books to sell, I am willing to bet they will promote the heck out of them for you.

      And the recommendations sound like a very nice fringe benefit.

      Reply
  22. Great post. Enjoyed hearing about your success. Thank you for the great advice and ideas.

    Reply
    • JH

      You’re very welcome, Juneta. Hope all is well with you.

      Reply
  23. Indie bookstores are a taste of heaven on earth. I’m lucky to have a few of them in my area. @mirymom1 from
    Balancing Act

    Reply
    • JH

      Welcome back, Samantha! It’s great to see you here again. I’m glad to hear you support and appreciate indie bookstores.

      Reply
  24. Great ideas. I’ve known more booksellers who “hand sell” books. Good people to connect with.

    Reply
    • JH

      Agreed. Booksellers are an authors’ best friend, along with librarians.

      Reply
  25. This is good advice, even if you’re looking to be traditionally published! Many big name publishers still expect you to do a fair amount of marketing, and being friends with book sellers helps you know what they want.

    Reply
    • JH

      For sure, Jen–I agree. Some of my books are traditionally published, but no matter who publishes you, one thing will always be true–no one will care about your book more than you do.

      Reply
  26. I know of a number of “used-car salesman” writers who actually do quite well for themselves. I couldn’t do that, but to each their own I suppose.

    I went into my local indy bookstore a few days ago and I felt so out of place. It’s the hipsteriest place I’ve ever set foot in. I felt my beard growing longer the second I walked in the door. And there was so much flannel, and so many toques.

    So many toques.

    Reply
    • JH

      Just to clarify, what I meant by “used-car salesman” writers was people who only befriend others in order to use them in some way, not writers who are constantly promoting themselves and/or their work. Although often there’s some overlap.

      I guess you’ll be buying yourself a toque?

      Reply
  27. My town has the grand total of one book store – and it’s part of a massive corporate chain 🙁
    Debbie

    Reply
    • JH

      That’s too bad, Debbie, but booksellers are still booksellers. Might be worth getting to know the people who work there. Also, you don’t have to be limited to your hometown. The two booksellers I’ll profile for the next IWSG live in a different country from me, and they’ve still helped me tremendously.

      Reply
  28. Great tips! I need to get out of the house more so I can spend more time conversing with the local book sellers.

    Reply
    • JH

      Even if you meet them once and then interact via social media and email, that’s fine. That’s pretty much all I did.

      Reply
  29. My favorite local bookstore is actually a bookstore/comic book store/vinyl record store. It’s just a cool place to hang out, which I do often. Haven’t promoted anything there yet, but they are ready for me whenever I get around to it. I’m all the time bringing them new customers just because. I never even mentioned I was an author until I got talking to one of the employees about a local Con we both enjoyed.

    Reply
  30. Wow, Holli! Such a load of awesomeness in this post! I clicked on the link from the June post to read this one first. You are an amazing, hard-working writer who deserves all the success coming your way.
    The opportunity to host and interview Karin Slaughter? That’s the cherry on top!
    Congratulations! I’m so happy for you!
    (Now I’m off to read part two)

    Reply

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